What’s the point of being smart if nobody understands what you have to say?
Have you interacted with someone who is really smart but when they finish speaking, you have to give your head a shake? You ask them a fairly simple question and they end up giving you a spaghetti platter of information for an answer?
Frustrating, isn’t it?
I often have that experience when I interact with people who have electronic health expertise. When they start referring to cells and end pages, I start planning my grocery list.
I love interacting with smart people … when I can understand them!
It’s one thing to be smart. It’s another thing to be able to share that information in a way others can understand.
“If you can’t explain it to a six year old, you don’t understand it yourself”Albert Einstein
Ever met with a financial advisor about mutual funds?
In case you haven’t, they talk about front-end, back-end or no-load funds. The information makes sense when the financial advisor talks about it, but when it comes time to explain it to your spouse, you say something like, “I can’t really remember. I understood it then. All I know is they said to buy no-load funds.”
I love what Simon Sinek says about making things simple … ‘Something made simple is repeatable. If you make it repeatable, it’s understandable. When it’s understandable, your information can then be shared by others without you being there.’ How good is that?
In addition to making your information repeatable and understandable, making it simple will also reduce ambiguity. If you think about it, simple language is also more inclusive and accessible – people don’t have to pretend they understand what the person is saying.
Now, simplifying doesn’t mean dumbing it down.
It means communicating in a way that others understand.
I remember when I was completing my BSN, while working in a CSICU. I was going to university fulltime while picking up some shifts on the weekend. Most of my thinking time was about the assignments and papers I had to complete for the courses I was taking. One day while I was working, I asked a colleague, “Are they going to implement that new blood gas process?” She said, “Implement?” Me: “Yeah” – clearly not understanding her confusion. She then said, “I would never choose to say the word ‘implement’. It just wouldn’t exit my lips. I would say ‘are they going to start that new blood gas process?”
That was my first introduction to the power of simplifying!
As I mentioned earlier, I am reminded of this lesson when I am in meetings with people who understand computer systems. I often say to them, “What does that mean” or “Please explain that in words I can understand.” As an aside, The Plain Language Action and Information Network (PLAIN) has a list of alternative words, which is really helpful for simplifying. Find it here.
Words that ‘insiders’ understand but leave a dumbfounded expression on ‘outsiders’ is jargon. When I refer to ‘outsiders,’ that could easily be someone in your own industry (healthcare) but working in a different area. Rather than assuming people know what you are referring to when you use jargon, assume they don’t know. That means, if an acronym slips through your lips, quickly define it. More often then not, people won’t ask what an acronym means; they’ll instead try and figure it out (while tuning out what you say after using the acronym!).
When you are sharing information, explaining a complex system or providing education on the latest practice change, remember to use the rule of three. This rule states information provided in 3’s is more satisfying and memorable.
It’s no coincidence there’s 3 Little Pigs, 3 Musketeers, 3 Blind Mice.
And what about the sayings … blood, sweat and tears … stop, look and listen … location, location, location?
People can remember 3 points; 2 is not enough and 4 is too many.
Now that you’ve learned 3 strategies (did you notice there were 3?), it’s your turn to give them a try.
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Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre
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Saskatoon Health Region
Simplify Your Smarts
What’s the point of being smart if nobody understands what you have to say? Have you interacted with someone who is really smart but w